Mario may be seen as the king of kart racing but Sumo Digital’s pair of SEGA-based antics have proven to be an excellent alternative and to some even a better one. With the developer’s third attempt – Team Sonic Racing – not only are we purely focused on the blue hedgehog and his pals now but more interestingly the idea of teamwork. While we might be used to working together in shooters, sports and everything in between it’s something rarely (if ever) truly explored in the karting or even racing genre. Does it work though?
If you’ve played either of Sumo Digital’s All-Stars Racing titles (or really any form of kart racer for that matter) then you should feel right at home here. It’s your usual chaotic blend of drifting, trick performing, speed boosts and silly weaponry across an assortment of over-the-top racetracks. While it manages to check all the expected karting boxes, with Sumo Digital behind the wheel it does so feeling and playing among best in class.
The game’s fifteen characters fall into one of three types each excelling in certain areas and offering unique abilities. Speed types, for example, reach the highest top speeds and can send out a weapon-destroying shockwave when boosting, technique meanwhile handle extremely well and can drive off-road without losing speed and finally power while slow to accelerate have strong defense, great boosting ability and can smash through obstacles opening up new routes. All three have something to offer catering to players of all experience types – I personally enjoyed the stronger boosting, wider drifting Knuckles while my wife gravitated toward the technique focused Rogue purely so she wouldn’t slow when straying from the track.
The modest list of characters included are decent enough albeit rather predictable. It’s also rather disappointing to see someone so throwaway like Zavok make the cut while others like Ray, Mighty and the rest of the Chaotix crew missing. Both All-Stars Racing titles dipped back into some of SEGA’s lesser known and weirder characters whereas here with the focus purely of the blue hedgehog’s cast the picks definitely feel fairly safe and less exciting.
It wouldn’t be a kart racer without an arsenal of items at your disposal and, fortunately, Team Sonic Racing doesn’t disappoint. Based around the Wisp characters from Sonic Colours you’ll have plenty of chances to take out your opponents. The orange rocket Wisps for example fire forwards (in a green shell-like fashion) while the blue cube Wisps can be left behind in hopes of blocking someone (much like a banana peel). The variety is plentiful if somewhat intimidating at first but thanks to the color coding of each Wisp it won’t take you too long to get your head around what they each do.
Where Team Sonic Racing truly accelerates ahead of the pack though is in its encouragement of teamwork. For starters winning isn’t just a case of grabbing first place for yourself but rather the combined score your three-person team accumulate. Teams are also able to pass items between themselves often times resulting in a more powerful weapon for the receiver. Trails left behind by teammates will reward you with a boost if you can follow the line long enough while speeding past them will also slingshot the slower player back up to speed. As you perform these acts of comradery you’ll slowly fill your Team Ultimate meter that when full can be used to gain a huge speed boost and invincibility. If all three of you can time your usage together then it will last even longer.
While the racing itself feels great in its own right, it’s the orchestrating of all these team-based actions that helps Team Sonic Racing truly stand out. It’s a real rush to have your combined efforts pay off whether it’s simply helping jump-start a teammate whose fallen prey to a Wisp attack, coordinating your movements to earn skimboosts or transferring a spare item with your partner whom might be lagging at the back of the pack. Does it leave the same impact as Sonic & All-Star Racing Transformed’s morphing vehicles? Not quite but it’s exciting to see Sumo Digital try a new angle with the series, one that proves fruitful in its own unique way. Of course, if you prefer a more individual experience then the team options can be switched off.
Racing through the game’s twenty-one racetracks has left me feeling slightly disappointed and a large part of that is due to the rather uninspired selection of locations on display. The Sonic the Hedgehog series is one packed with plenty of memorable and unique zones and to see the likes of Seaside Hill, Casino Park and Final Fortress returning once again (after appearing in both previous All-Stars titles) means it’s hard to be surprised and excited in the same way you are when racing on debuting locales like Sandopolis of Sonic & Knuckles fame and Spagonia from Sonic Unleashed. Maybe this is more of an annoyance for me because I’m such a big fan of the series but when nine of your twenty-one tracks are returning ‘favorites’ you can’t help but feel a tad letdown you’ll be revisiting nearly as many zones as you are discovering.
Your typical Grand Prix, exhibition and time trial modes are all present and accounted for the former two playable with up to four players locally. You’re also able to take the race online although my experience has felt a little vacant in terms of players with getting a full room of twelve not the easiest of tasks. Oddly online racing offers race types not available locally such as King of the Hill (the player in first place slowly gains points), Vampire (where you use Violet Void Wisps to steal rings from other racers to gain speed) and Boost Race (item boxes will only award White Boost Wisps). It seems like a weird omission and hopefully something SEGA will patch in at a later date.
Lastly is Team Adventure which acts as the game’s campaign/story mode. While the tale being told in Team Adventure mode is rather unremarkable, it’s the variety in race types that keeps you engaged across its seven-chapter span. Team-based events come in the form of standard races, four-track Grand Prix events as well as elimination contests. Peppered throughout you’ll also come across individual challenges that will see you shooting targets, collecting rings, taking out Eggman’s robots and drifting past slaloms in hopes of reaching medal rewarding scores. I’ve always enjoyed when kart racers branch out beyond standard Grand Prix options (going as far back as Diddy Kong Racing) and Team Adventure definitely delivers. Better still is the fact you can tackle every race and mission with two other players locally.
A big question I had coming into Team Sonic Racing was how it would perform on the Switch and overall, I have to say I’m impressed. Sure, it’s slightly disappointing that the game runs at only 30 frames per second (unlike the 60 on other systems) but it’s an understandable choice given the Switch’s limitations and the commendable, energetic visuals on display.
The soundtrack also deserves a special shout out, the main theme in itself rather catchy but it’s the remixes of old Sonic tunes that truly shine. Fans will love hearing their old favorites (as well as a few unexpected ones) retooled for Team Sonic Racing.
Players are able to customize each character’s kart with a generous helping of parts and cosmetics. I was actually quite surprised how much fun I had swapping in and out spoilers, wheels and more to see how it might alter the character’s attributes (top speed, handling, etc) not to mention tweaking the paint jobs, the surface type, and vinyls. It’s a shame pretty much everything needs to be unlocked gradually and randomly and that half the car parts are just golden variations of existing ones though.
Team Sonic Racing is yet another solid racer from Sumo Digital and a must for those looking for something fresh beyond Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. While the team-based aspects may not leave quite the same mark that Transformed’s changing tracks and car to boat to plane racing did it’s still a heap of fun and easily one of the more unique ideas the genre has seen for some time.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by SEGA